Spreading hope, 21st century style

1 in 9 people in the U.S have used it. Its reach extends to 236 countries. In 2014, 2.2 million new people joined communities. 300,000 people visit every day. More than 72,000 families created a website in 2014. Any idea what I’m referring to?

Those are some of the key stats for a social media tool called CaringBridge. It works like this: patients set up a private and secure website where they post journal entries about their health journey. They invite close family and friends to join their site, creating a caring and supportive community. Family and friends are kept up to date and they can post encouraging and supportive messages. It takes the communication burden off the patient and their immediate family so they can focus on healing.  It replaces the black hole of not knowing for those who care and worry.

I first learned about CaringBridge many years ago when I was the CIO at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. We jointly sponsored it with Dana Farber Cancer Institute and encouraged our cancer patients to use it. At the University of Michigan Health System, we make patients and families aware of this service and another similar one called CarePages.

For all my years working in health care and using the main social media platforms, I’m finally experiencing firsthand the healing power of CaringBridge.  A close relative is on a difficult medical journey. Through his private CaringBridge site, I am getting his updates, viewing pictures, and reading the supportive comments of so many people who care about him. Of course, I’m right there with all of them sending my own words of encouragement and hope.

This is an excellent example of leveraging technology and social media. In health IT, we focus on electronic health records and sharing information between multiple providers caring for a patient. Provider organizations are promoting more patient engagement with tools and services through our patient portals. But CaringBridge is a simple service that patients and their families can easily use, and when you look at the stats, it’s clear that many do.  The CaringBridge mission is simple – to amplify the love, hope and compassion in the world, making each health journey easier.

Sona Mehring founded CaringBridge in 1997 when close friends of hers had a premature baby. As a computer programmer, she saw the potential for a web based solution to quickly and easily communicate with family and friends during a critical time.  When you think about the evolution of other social media platforms in the last 10+ years, you can see that she was ahead of her time with a focused goal. She has also written a book called Hope Conquers All: Inspiring Stories of Love and Healing from CaringBridge.

From a personal experience, Sona used her technology skills and knowledge to benefit many! According to her bio, she has been recognized and honored for her passion and visionary leadership. In 2014, The Women’s Health Leadership TRUST named her one of the top 35 Women Leaders in Minnesota Healthcare.  In 2013, Minnesota Monthly placed her on their list of the 75 most influential people of the Twin Cities. And she was named one of 2011’s “Most Influential Women in Technology” by Fast Company.

CaringBridge is a non-profit organization and due to the support of its many donors is available to anyone at any time at no cost. It only takes reading a few journal entries and seeing the words of encouragement from others to realize what a powerful healing tool it can be. I know it’s helping my loved ones at a difficult time. For me, making a donation this past weekend was a no-brainer.




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